The State of Play

Heard any good myths lately? Try these for size.

‘I thought Henry Lydiate was a middle-aged rich solicitor, with a plush office in the Strand, who makes lots of money out of artists.’

‘Why shoulld I subscribe money to Artlaw Services – I thought it was paid for by the Arts Council?’

These are but two inaccurate gems which reflect the misconceptions many people seem to have about Artlaw. As the founder and current chairman of the organisation I feel the time has come for me to crave your indulgence and give you the low-down on just what we do and where we get our money from to do it.

Have a look at these questions: Why doesn’t my gallery have to charge VAT on sales? Can our landlord throw us out for using some space for a studio or a gallery? What’s to stop me living in my studio? Can the publishers keep my illustration? Are they allowed to mutilate my work like that? Why won’t the gallery tell me who they’ve sold my work to? Do I have to pay income tax as PAYE on my teaching? Why does the magazine I do work for also give me film? What can I do about all these posters I see which have ripped off my ideas? Why can’t I get the money back for my lost work, just because the gallery says it’s not insured? They’re writing scurrilous stories about me in the press, what can I do? Can you give me some quick advice over the telephone about copyright law?

That little lot was rattled off in thirty seconds flat by the Artlaw staff, and is a fair sample of the kind of enquiry we regularly receive. Last year we dealt with over 600 and so far this year we’ve already dealt with over 400. The most prevalent problems posed relate to contracts, studio accommodation, income tax and VAT, and setting up some kind of group or organisation. About one-third come from the regions of Britain, the rest from London.

We don’t just give help to practising artists: arts administrators, galleries, buyers, art students, educationists and regional and national arts associations also seek information, advice and assistance. Anyone with a query can ring, write or call at the office between 10-6pm; there’s also an ansaphone. Often the lawyers on the staff can give the answer quite quickly; sometimes the matter is referred to our volunteer lawyers in the ‘clinic’ (fondly known as ‘the night-shift’), who give advice in the evenings or at weekends from the office in the Strand. Appropriate cases are sometimes referred to solicitors in private practice, to accountants or to any other agency that might be able to give expert help. Advice from Artlaw staff or the Clinic is given free of charge; private solicitors charge their usual fees or, where clients’ means justify it, the legal aid fund may pay.

Wherever legal help is given, the important point to note is that the lawyer concerned will be someone who takes special interest in the visual arts and in dealing with Artlaw cases and, therefore, has a good deal of knowledge and understanding of the peculiar and tricky vagaries, customs and trade practices of the art world. This is the cornerstone of Artlaw’s legal help programme. It is, essentially, a first aid or ambulance service; we try to avoid major surgery.

What other services do we give?
We also indulge in preventative medicine. Our vigorous education programme is directed mainly towards art students during their final year or postgraduate year of studies. Artlaw staff give lectures, talks and seminars covering all the legal and administrative problems young artists are likely to face after leaving college and during their first crucial ten years; a crash course in survival. This year we have already visited about thirty art schools, universities and polytechnics throughout the UK and Ireland. Artlaw does receive normal lecture fees and expenses for these services.

For the art practitioner and administrator we also organise conferences and training workshops which tend to be intensive all-day sessions covering essential legal topics in detail. A typical workshop held recently at Brighton included sessions on income tax and VAT, artist and gallery, artist and sales, finding and maintaining studio accommodation.

We try to cover regions in Britain every year. Often organised through, and sometimes subsidised by, Regional Arts Associations, costs are kept to the bare minimum. Artlaw subscribers get a discount and priority booking. Though hard work for those attending, they are always really enjoyable days and are a very important feature of our services.

The obverse of the coin must not be forgotten: from time to time we also organise training workshops and conferences to recruit and involve interested lawyers throughout the country; and also to refresh, inform and educate our volunteer-night-shift-clinic lawyers and those on our referral panel.

This education programme is buttressed by a planned programme of publications: my Art Monthly columns have been collated into a handy pamphlet which sells like hot cakes (‘a good pound’s worth’, so I am told!); there are handbooks soon to be published on income tax, studios, contracts and constituting groups and organisations. Watch the press for details. Publication costs will be kept as low as possible (i.e. under a pound) and Artlaw subscribers will receive a discount. We also publish forms for bills of sale, contracts of sale, exhibition agreements, consignment contracts, and income tax profit and loss accounts including suggested line items for tax deductible expenditure – each for a few pence.

Anything else?
Yes, we continually review all the work we do and liaise with as many individuals and, organisations involved with visual art as we can – in Britain and abroad. This keeps us au fait with current problems and often we can spot trends which forewarn and allow us to pass these danger signs onto the arts community; and, sometimes, to initiate ways of taking avoiding or mitigating action. This research/monitoring/liaison function is an important feature of our services; it enabled us to plan and present a day-long conference which dealt with ‘Legal Change for the Visual Arts’ at the Whitechapel earlier this year. Chaired by Lord Hutchinson, QC, speakers included Mark Boyle, Stuart Brisley and Leslie Waddington, plus lawyers Lawrence Harbottle, Michael Rubinstein and myself.

Who runs it?
There is a full-time staff of three: Adrian Barr-Smith, solicitor, is Director; David Binding, barrister, is Deputy Director; Jane Nicholl is Office Manager assisted by an office junior paid for by the Manpower Services Commission. Andrea Hill is employed two days per week as Subscriptions Officer and Kathy Payne one day per week as bookkeeper. Liz Lydiate runs the education and publications programmes on a voluntary basis one day per week. The Clinic of volunteer lawyers has its own constitution and officers, solicitor Roslyn Innocent being current Chair.

Artlaw Services is a charity: it is constituted as a non-profit distributing company limited by guarantee, governed by an unpaid Council of Management comprising five artists, five lawyers and five arts administrators; I am the current Chair.

Who pays for it?
This year’s annual budget is £44,500. We anticipate paying, for that in this way:
£12,000 from the legal education and publications programmes; £7,000 from fund-raising activities; £11,000 from subscriptions. The balance of £14,000 will be met this year only through financial support from the Arts Council, the Welsh Arts Council and the Crafts Council.

Why should I subscribe to it?
We’re an independent national organisation. We don’t want public money; but we need it this year. Our aim is self-sufficiency; and we can achieve it. This year we need to generate £11,000 through subscriptions; next year we need to generate that amount plus the £14,000 we don’t want from public funds. If you think Artlaw is worth supporting and you want it to be around this year and in the future to carry on its work, simply subscribe. The rate is £10.00 per year.

For further information and help contact us by phone on 01-240 0610, write or call in at 358 Strand, London WC2. By the way, it’s a three-room, fourth-floor walk-up – not very salubrious but it does a good job. Come up and see us some time.

© Henry Lydiate 1980



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This article is from the Artlaw Archive of Henry Lydiate's columns published in Art Monthly since 1976, and may contain out of date material. The article is for information only, and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. Readers should consult a solicitor for legal advice on specific matters. Artists can get free online legal information from Artquest.